When there are only unpaved roads in most parts of the city, how do I get home without getting my shoes all muddy? This question was the point of departure of a series of ideas that materialized into “Salta Charcos”. From January till March 2010, Venezuelan architect Oscar Abraham Pabón had the chance to get to know and wander around the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra during his residency at Kiosko. Pabón’s direct contact with the cityscape, its particularities and its history as well as the conditions of the space and urban areas gave shape to an intervention project in the urban space entitled “Salta Charcos” (Puddle Jumper).
In broad terms, “Salta Charcos” (Puddle Jumper) is a sculptural piece which fundamental condition is to be ‘stepped on’ and, as Pabón explains “possesses the quality of establishing an anthropometrical relation or, in other words, a metric relationship between the spectator and the piece as each piece is equidistantly disposed linking several points in a path but, as the name suggests, demands the act of jumping to breach the distance between the puddles that form in the unpaved roads during rainy season.“
Borrowing José Saramago’s aphorism “knowledge is all that which I don’t know”, for Pabón ignorance is fundamental for knowledge. Thus, this exchange with the environment, with the Bolivian city and its inhabitants, generated a particular kind of knowledge, of experience, “when you live truly that exchange you become aware of the infinite you ignore.” For the architect this was one of the most important aspects of his residency at Kiosko: having the freedom to explore ideas in a space that was totally unknown to him. Coming from a different but similar Latin American country, this residency enabled Pabón to be aware of other different but similar realities which altered his preconceived ideas, from urbanism to contemporary aesthetics. Having this freedom was pivotal in the development of this project. As Pabón explains: “when you are in a space that is unknown to you, this situation demands a different way of looking, a different approach to the city and its people… having a different time reference, different currency, different way of speaking… all these new details made me more alert and transformed my ideas about art, the city and the public space …”
The final project of “Salta Charcos” (Puddle Jumper) consisted in the proposal for 1000 lineal meters of intervention in the public space. However, for the exhibition at Kiosko, Pabón created only four modules made out of concrete that were displayed alongside two series of photographs, one entitled “33 Pedestales” (33 Pedestals) and the other “Lo que ves es lo que ves” (What You See is What You See). Although accompanied by other works, “Salta Charcos” was without a doubt the central piece in the exhibition. As Pabón recalls: “The people that looked at it immediately understood its utility; they knew the importance this seemingly simple piece has to avoid getting your shoes muddy, an urban problem that every inhabitant of Santa Cruz knows very well.”
For Pabón, this project, which departs from minimalist and post-minimalist sculpture, has an important social implication. Notwithstanding, the young architect makes explicit that he is not so much interested in using social necessities as tools to represent ideas of art as in using art’s discourses to create an awareness of those social realities. So, in the end, this project has a particular utilitarian function which is to jump puddles. “That is why it has been conceived as an intervention project in public spaces, its real location and existence is in the place where it serves its function.”
In a later conversation with the architect, Adriana González Navarro pointed out certain relevant philosophical observations about the significance of this project:
“I believe the significance of 'Salta Charcos' does not rely in that it is considered an artwork or an industrial object with a social function. Its importance lies in the experience it enables, which does not necessarily have to be rational. To walk carefully through the streets is a commonplace action. When you put a 'Salta Charcos'' in the road, which is not there, experience is transformed. What is a common thing to do, to walk, will no longer be done in the same way because there is a new element. It is not the same as to put stones or bricks to avoid the mud. Is 'Salta Charcos' a new object? Yes, to the extent that you depart from an idea of taking something functional and quotidian (a simple rock) and transform it so what you jump is a sculpture but not a sculpture as a single piece, but the same piece repeated. The repetitive act is innovative because you never jump in the same way, the mud will cause subtle changes when jumping over 'Salta Charcos'.”